By Jay Markle February 18, 2022 9:00 am
By Jay Markle |
The Gators, like the rest of college football, have turned their primary recruiting efforts toward the class of 2023. This batch of young men will constitute Billy Napier’s bump class, which is an incredibly important landmark for a new head coach. The state of Florida is absolutely packed with quality recruits for the team to draw on, creating a perfect scenario for Florida to capitalize.
Of course, it’s not reasonable to expect that Napier and his crew will be able to bring every high-end player they target to Gainesville. However, he’s going to have plenty of time to build relationships with these guys. Especially considering the new Florida staff was custom built to be a recruiting powerhouse, they should be able to make inroads with enough of them to assemble a respectable group of commits.
Let’s take a look at a sampling of the top-shelf recruits who the Gators have a shot at reeling in and what they bring to the table.
McClain is the consensus top cornerback in the 2023 recruiting class and is easily the best player with whom the Gators have been consistently linked. He’s a major weapon in the passing game and his exquisite ball skills are constantly praised in scouting reports and highlight reels. His long levers fit the bill for a Corey Raymond prospect and his speed and flexibility allow him to get into position to use his physicality well.
The elite prospect tweeted his frustration with the constant turnover in college coaching staffs. Nevertheless, despite a new regime coming to to win in Gainesville, the Gators cracked McClain’s recent list of top eight schools. His relationship with Raymond has been in place for years and Napier made a good impression on him in their handful of meetings.
Florida has stiff competition in his recruitment, and they’ll have to slug it out with a long list of football titans to win his services. The early leaders seem to include Miami, Ohio State and Georgia, but it’s too soon to declare a true frontrunner.
The Gators’ struggles to recruit and develop talent along the offensive line are well-documented and extend as far back as Will Muschamp. The problem is too extensive to be fixed in one recruiting cycle, but if Florida can bring Payton Kirkland to the Swamp, it will be a step in the right direction.
He’s not the jewel among offensive tackles in the 2023 class, in fact, he’s not even ranked among the top 15 tackles by 247Sports. That figure is deceiving, though, as this class has impressive offensive line depth. Kirkland is a solid in-state four-star and the Gators are making him a “priority target.” Even among lineman, Kirkland stands out. His 6-foot-6-inch frame carries 325 pounds of bulk.
The ability of this staff to build relationships will be crucial in his recruitment. He has commented on various occasions how much he appreciates the engaged attitude of the coaches he has interacted with, including Rob Sale, Darnell Stapleton, Billy Napier, and Mike Peterson. That attitude will hopefully go a long way with his family as well, whose opinion he reportedly plans on weighing heavily in his decision.
Now that he’s back on the open market after decommitting from Oklahoma, Brandon Inniss will be attracting suitors by the dozen. Depending on who you ask, he’s either the best receiver in the class or close behind. His appeal lies in his immense football IQ, allowing him to play well beyond his age. That manifests itself in his innate ability to create separation and rarely has to compete for the ball in a phone booth thanks to his dazzling release package and route running.
Because of his well-developed skillset, Inniss will be a factor in games before his peers. Naturally, it won’t be easy for the Gators to get his signature despite the fact he’s a Florida product. USC seems a good candidate to attract his attention, considering Lincoln Riley had his commitment once before. He also unofficially visited Miami in late January and Mario Cristobal’s recruiting chops rival most coaches in the nation.
Napier has a lot of ground to make up in this recruitment if Inniss is going to play for Florida — the Ragin’ Cajuns were never going to be in the picture for a player this talented. Inniss is exactly what the Gators offense needs right now, though. Bringing him to Gainesville would be one heck of a statement, perhaps even more so than Cormani McClain, who is often considered the better prospect because this is starting from square one.
Keeley committed to Notre Dame early and is the biggest piece in their currently top-ranked recruiting class, but the Gators (and a whole slew of other teams) are trying to pry him away from the Irish. On a recent episode of the 247Sports Football Recruiting Podcast, host Blair Angulo and guest Cooper Petanga were just about tripping over each other trying to say more and more good things about him.
He’s a star on the field and in the classroom who combines hyperathleticism with a great deal of ambition and football IQ. In other words, he’s the total package. Marcus Freeman, the new coach at Notre Dame, is assembling a recruiting-forward process for his school, but the Gators aren’t completely out of the picture.
Keeley is trying to arrange a March visit to The Swamp and being on campus may be just the ticket for him to reconsider his position. He grew up a Gators fan and the new, attentive staff has all the tools to make him feel like the priority he deserves to be.
The only player on this list who isn’t an in-state athlete is Joenel Aguero, who visited the Gators last season and plans to get back on campus in mid-March. His hometown in Massachusetts is no small trek from Gainesville, but he’s been open minded about his destination throughout the recruiting process so far.
According to the 247Sports scouting report, Aguero is a versatile back able to play in the box or at free safety. His aggression and chiseled frame are an advantage when playing downhill, but he’s fast and has good hands, which are useful when playing coverage as well. That makes him a good fit for the Saints-esque defense that Florida is expected to run under the influence of Patrick Toney and Corey Raymond. Georgia is a leading candidate for his services, but he is exactly what the Gators need at the safety position and they’ll certainly make a push for him.
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2023 football recruiting, Billy Napier, Cormani McClain, Florida Gators, Joenel Aguero, Payton Kirkland, Football, Football Recruiting
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By Jay Markle February 18, 2022 9:00 am